Franklin Middle Schools skate club offers students constructive after-school activity
Ollies and kick flips.
The words might not mean much to you if you've never stepped on a skateboard.
And they might not have meant much to some students at Franklin Middle School in Wheaton if aide Paul Boucher hadn't come to Assistant Principal Joe Kish with an idea last fall — an idea that blossomed into creation of the Franklin Skate Club.
After reviewing the results of a student interest survey, Boucher, an avid skateboarder himself, realized there was substantial support for the creation of a skate club. And he also thought it might be a way to get some kids involved in a school program who might otherwise not be so inclined.
But after doing some research, he and Kish couldn't find any other schools in the area with such a club. In fact, the closest they could find was in Wauwatosa, Wis.
Kish says he had some initial concerns, not the least of which involved safety and liability. But after speaking with an assistant superintendent, he says, most of those fears were put to rest.
"His words back to me were, 'It can't be more dangerous than football,'" Kish said.
Now, as the club wraps up its inaugural year, it is getting strong reviews from both participating students and faculty.
The club, which features between 15 and 20 students, meets twice a week after school. Skaters recently took part in their final practice of the season at Clocktower Commons in downtown Wheaton and put on a performance to demonstrate their skills.
"I've had parents telling me, "my kid likes coming to school because they're involved in this,'" Kish said. "This is their hook; this their connection, and it's a good thing. I think it's a win-win for all these parties here."
Kish said support for the program has been coming from several sources. Wheaton Park District made the Clocktower Commons skate park available for practices. The Wheaton Firefighters Union paid for gear such as helmets and kneepads. And the DuPage County State's Attorney's office provided $500 from a Drug Forfeiture Grant.
DuPage State's Attorney Bob Berlin said he sees the club as a way for students to be involved in an activity that keeps them away from negative pressures and influences.
"There's also an educational component that goes with it, and I just thought that it was a unique opportunity," Berlin said. "It was something different, out of the ordinary and a great opportunity for these kids, not only to learn about making good choices and decisions but to give them something to do that's constructive in the hours after school where typically … that's when they get into trouble."
Kevin King, president of the Wheaton Firefighters Union, said the group handed out skateboards to kids at the park on its opening day and promoted safety by talking to them about head injuries and the proper precautions.
So when Kish came to the union with a proposal for funding, it seemed like a natural fit.
"(When) we can take the kids' energy and focus into one thing, I think we're making headway," King said. "Around here with the teachers of (Wheaton Unit) School District 200, they're great role models for these kids, and anytime we can get a role model in front of them talking and teaching, maybe they'll pick up on something."
Funding from the union proved instrumental in creating the club.
"If it weren't for that, we wouldn't have been able to get started, just because so many of the kids who ended up participating wouldn't have … the necessary safety equipment," Boucher said.
Boucher said he skated from the time he was 13 until his early 20s, when his back and knees started giving out.
"But I kept the skateboard and from changing apartments, buying a house, getting married, I always kept it with me every time I moved, even though I never used it," Boucher said. "I never thought something like this would happen, that something I did that was a very, very important part of my life when I was younger would come full circle and that I would be sharing that with kids."
In the winter, Boucher worked with the students to set short-term, medium-term and long-term goals, part of the educational component of the club. He went over choices the kids could make that would help them and hurt them in achieving those goals.
Boucher said he tried to weave such lessons into the club's weekly meetings.
"Drugs and choices like that are going to hurt you," he said. "They're not going to make it easier to achieve those goals."
Boucher also sees an emotional development aspect to skateboarding, part of which comes from interaction with other students in the club.
He said his favorite part is seeing the relationships that have developed among students in the club who otherwise might not have had anything to do with each other. Better still, he said, many of those friendships have carried over to after-school hours.
"There's obviously physical courage to skateboarding, where you have to be willing to do something that may hurt if you don't do it successfully," he said. "But there's also the emotional courage to know you might fall, you might look silly and to be confident enough in yourself and confident enough in your peer group that it'll be OK, that they'll support you and that you don't need to feel silly because you fell down."
Seventh-grader Patrick Reimann started skateboarding this year and said he had a personal reason for joining the club.
"I wanted to try skateboarding because my cousin used to do it, and I wanted to try and follow in his footsteps," Patrick said. "I thought it'd be a chance for me to learn how to do tricks and have some fun with friends."
Fellow student Antonio Rice, on the other hand, has been skateboarding for four years, so he was excited to hear the school was forming a skate club.
"You get to learn new things," Antonio said. "Sometimes you might fall, but you just get right back up and try again."
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